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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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AU staff, faculty and students marched to deliver demands to CFO on International Workers’ Day

Nearly 200 more employees filed for representation with AU’s staff union Tuesday

Over a hundred students, faculty and staff assembled in front of the American University President’s Office Building Wednesday and marched to the office of Bronté Burleigh-Jones, AU’s chief financial officer, vice president and treasurer, at 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW.  

AU’s staff union, SEIU Local 500, organized the rally in honor of May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, which celebrates workers’ rights and typically falls on May 1. 

On Tuesday, 190 more employees in the Student Affairs, Information Technology and University Communications and Marketing divisions filed with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented by the existing staff union.

“International May Day has a long history of student and worker coalition and solidarity. We’re here today [in] solidarity with each other with a few very simple demands,” said Sam Sadow, a visual resources curator and adjunct professorial lecturer in the Art Department and an elected representative for the provost’s division union, as he addressed the crowd in front of the President’s Office.

Flyers distributed at the event highlighted the staff union’s demands for the University: settle a fair contract with Union members, respect the rights of unionizing workers, repeal the Jan. 25 ban on protests inside University buildings and provide transparency regarding its budget and investment portfolio. 

Gabriel Savir, a freshman in the School of Communication, told the crowd in front of the President’s Office that students’ tuition should be going towards the faculty, staff and facilities workers who provide education and maintain AU’s campus.

“Instead, it goes to outside consulting groups we didn’t approve, fossil fuels, arms manufacturers we claim not to support, union-busters and top-level administrators who actively work against the community we’ve built,” Savir said in his speech.

Protesters marched from the President’s Office through the quad and down New Mexico Avenue, stopping outside of the building with Burleigh-Jones’ office. Along the route, organizers distributed flyers detailing demands to onlookers on the quad.

Organizers and faculty members gave speeches outside the New Mexico Avenue office building before announcing that a group of representatives would enter the building to present their demands to Burleigh-Jones. 

mayday pic - 23

Four union representatives and one student entered the building and attempted to read statements and their list of demands to Burleigh-Jones, but the finance office lights were off and the door was locked. 

Phillip Morse, the assistant vice president for University police services, emergency management and transportation programs, made a phone call to Burleigh-Jones to connect the representatives with her, but said the call could not go through.

Instead, representatives passed around a phone, recording their statements and list of demands on camera outside the dark office. 

“We’re asking that you recognize that there is no university without us, that staff’s working conditions are students’ working conditions,” said Roshan Abraham, a member of the provost’s division union, first year advisor, AUx instructor and scholar-in-residence in the Department of Philosophy & Religion, in the staff union’s video of their demands.

After the representatives exited the building, protesters walked back up New Mexico Avenue to main campus, escorted by at least seven Metropolitan Police Department vehicles. 

Elizabeth Deal, the assistant vice president for community and internal communication, wrote in a statement to The Eagle, “We respect our employees’ right to organize and express their point of view. We have a productive relationship with the Union and remain optimistic that our ongoing negotiations will result in a fair agreement that continues our investment in our people and advances the university’s mission.”

Anselm Beach, the assistant director of doctoral programs in the School of Education, attended the start of the protest and ate lunch outside next to the protesters as they stood outside of Burleigh-Jones’ office.

“As a staff member at an institution of higher education, I am aware of how the hierarchies and the ranking system impacts the type of treatment that staff receive. I’ve been experiencing the brunt of that very recently,” Beach told The Eagle.

Beach has worked for the University for five years and said he was initially shielded from “the negative work experiences” his colleagues in other departments had for two and a half years. 

When AU staff began negotiations two years ago, Beach became involved out of curiosity. Hearing his colleagues’ stories about their work experiences with the University inspired him to become more involved with the staff union.

Once Beach experienced unfair pressure and treatment from the administration for the first time, his “shield” from the negative experiences that his colleagues had discussed evaporated, as he went through the same struggles as them. Since he became involved in the staff union, Beach and other members have felt unheard by the University’s response.

“In our efforts to advocate for ourselves, we’ve been met time and time again by these empty apologies, people who say that they care about equity and inclusion and anti-racism and diversity,” he said. 

Shelby Liebler, a resident assistant and sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, attended the protest to provide support for the union members and on behalf of the University’s RAs, who have no formal union representation.

For Liebler, the University’s suspension of indoor protests was “widely disrespectful” to current and past AU students who protested apartheid in South Africa, the Vietnam War and other conflicts around the world.

“I think AU claiming to be a school of changemakers and then taking away the rights for the students to make change is an abomination and a shame upon what the University claims to stand for,” Liebler said.

Sadow told The Eagle how he appreciated the student turnout and support for the union.  

“I mean, students have so much power on campus and it’s a different kind of power than staff. And it’s a different kind of power than faculty have,” Sadow said. “When they come together, that’s a level of power that, when pressed, can really enact structural changes around the way the university is run [and] how decisions are made.”

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis. 

Editor’s note: This podcast discusses topics like suicide, sexual abuse and violence.

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